Two months ago, nobody wanted to discuss the process.
Most of the city was foregoing this little thing called “the regular season,” instead awarding the Phillies the National League pennant. There was no curiosity about matching up with the Braves, only curiosity about how many games the World Series would last.
But then life happened. And, as we’re all told from a very early age, if something is too good to be true, it is. Two offensive keys went down. Two months ago, the projected opening day lineup was:
Today, the projected lineup is:
A lineup with slight question marks but few holes became one riddled with players outside their ideal slot.
It truly is remarkable how, in a few short years, the Phillies went from being an offensive juggernaut that couldn’t attract big-name pitchers to being a team reliant on starting pitching to make up for offensive shortcomings.
With the re-addition of Cliff Lee and a half-year more of Roy Oswalt in 2011, the Phillies will add an estimated 9 wins (per Fangraphs WAR.) The number would be higher if not for the canceled out win-shares from Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer.
By losing Jayson Werth, that nine-win surplus is subtracted by three. Werth was worth five wins in 2010, and the combo of Ben Francisco, Dom Brown, Gload, and whoever else should contribute roughly two.
By losing Utley until July-August (yes, I truly believe that and have seen nothing to make me think otherwise,) the Phillies lose another 3-or so wins. So really, we’re looking at a team that, despite its offseason improvement, is set to start the season in the same position as last year.
That is not necessarily bad news.
I’m sure you didn’t forget, but the Phils led all of major league baseball with 97 wins in 2010 and drove in cruise control during most of September.
The Phillies will still be great in 2011. Elite. Incredibly fun to watch. Twenty-eight other fanbases would choose this roster over their own if given a choice of any team for one year. It just won’t be a six-month pleasure cruise en route to the playoffs.
There are going to be rough patches, times when we clamor for more offense or a better bullpen. There will be times that the age of this roster is rightfully called into question, and times that we shake our head at a managerial miscue.
But if forced to choose any narrative for the 2011 season, who is to say that this isn’t the best one?
Think about it. The Phillies, even with the loss of Werth and injuries to Brown and Utley, are still poised to win between 93-98 games. But to make things more interesting, they will win those games in a different way than they did in 2010. The drink was shaken up but not diluted. We have new guys and old friends to cheer for, and, hell, everybody loves a triumphant mid-season return.
By not combining the return of a top-5 pitcher with a healthy Utley and Brown to start the season, the Phillies may struggle a bit more than we surmised in January, but that will make games all the more exciting. Oftentimes this offseason, friends or family would ask my thoughts on the Phillies’ win total, and I kept responding the same way, “I hope they don’t win 105 games, 110 games,” or whatever the common projection was.
You may disagree, and I’m sure many of you will, but what is the fun in coasting during most of August and September? What is the fun of a massive lead that leads to less enjoyment of our superstars – missed starts here and there for position players and spot starts from Vance Worley or Kyle Kendrick?
To me, the fun in absolutely everything in life, is the process. We all chase that girl for years, only to find out that the years of imagination were better than the real thing. We all tirelessly maneuver to make more money, only to find ourselves hating the journey which leads to the reward.
Enjoying the good times and feeling the raw emotions is what it’s all about. And the passionate Philadelphia sports fan in me would rather sweat out late-season games in hopes of miraculously-timed healing than dismiss summer baseball waiting for the Fall.